Starward Rogue is a twin-stick shooter. You know the drill—avoid the bullets while shooting at everything in sight. This particular entry into the overcrowded genre features top-down bullet-hell gameplay with roguelike elements. If you’re conjuring an image of bullets flying at you as you traverse room after room in search of bosses and collectibles, then you know what to expect. Thankfully, it plays well despite a lackluster first impression.
When you first play Starward Rogue, a simple tutorial steps you through the main elements. You play the role of a gun-toting robot that can adjust its speed, shoot in any direction, and fire missiles. It’s fluid and straightforward, though I was initially put off by the small on-screen text and the choice of pressing the R-stick for certain in-game interactions. Thankfully, this button can be adjusted in the game’s settings.
The settings are quite robust, actually. You can tinker with the video options to adjust zoom, contrast, and sharpness, among other things. In the audio department, you can fiddle with various volumes. You can also adjust various gameplay controls, like left- and right-stick dead zones, or toggling your default speed. It’s a welcome amount of customization.
Speaking of audio, the fast-paced tunes are great. Beats like these are a staple of the adrenaline-pumping shmup genre. In Starward Rogue, the tunes slide neatly into the background with their addictive rhythm to keep you on edge in the best way possible.
The game’s premise is simple: survive five floors. Each floor consists of a maze of procedurally generated rooms filled with foes or treasure. Once you find and defeat the boss of that floor, you’re off to the next. Complete them all, and the credits roll. Five difficulty levels, a long list of achievements, and other collectibles give you a reason to replay should you make it through.
Getting there is tough, as is par for the course in this genre. Thank goodness for those difficulty settings, which made it possible for me to get all the way through after a few efforts on an easier mode. The bosses, in particular, are a highlight. These big baddies are fun to duel with, offering variation in movements and bullet patterns.
One of my favorite elements of any shooter is the upgradeable weapons, and Starward Rogue is no exception. Most rooms feature special item drops, either for free or purchase. These allow you to change your weapon or upgrade your skills, such as defensive shields, helpful drones that attack on your behalf, or a chance to replenish missiles when an enemy dies. It adds to the fun as you become the best version of your robotic self.
Another fun element is a special goal given at the start of each floor. This might be to purchase three items before finishing the floor, or finding and defeating the boss within a particular time frame. These optional incentives add to the experience by providing an extra mission that results in bonus XP.
Overall, I had fun with Starward Rogue, despite my initial reluctance. Any issues with the controls were sorted in the settings. The on-screen text is still a little small for my liking while in docked mode, but handheld fares much better. It’s a solid shooter experience if given the chance, with a rocking soundtrack and plenty of action as you blast your way through five floors of bullet-riddled mayhem.